Friday, 18 December 2015


 The Bishop of Melbourne delivered the fourth of his series of lectures on the Principles of the Revelations. . .
We have to consider to-day the meaning of the second symbolical form connected with the series of the vials ; that, viz., of the lamb-like beast, which, ascended from the earth. This is so connected in the vision with that which we last considered — the form of the wild beast from the sea— that when the meaning of this latter has been found, that of the former is as good as determined. If, as we saw reason to conclude, the wild beast from the sea represented the general spiritual characteristics of the Pagan Roman Empire, then the wild beast from the earth represents most certainly some spiritual power standing in a relation of close alliance to that empire. From amongst all such possible powers, then, of which shall we say that it is the image? St. John answers this question most unambiguously when in the 20th verse of the 19th chapter he calls it "the false prophet which wrought miracles before the first beast," and "deceived them" which had its mark. There can be little doubt, then, that this earth-born prophecy, with its lamb-like aspect, and its dragon- inspired words, represents heathen divination in its widest sense; including its oracles, mysteries, auguries, incantations and magical impostures. This interpretation answers exactly to the main features of the symbol. (1.) The second beast had its birth from the earth, the settled form of man's worldly existence, as the first beast arose from the sea, the militant masses of humanity tossing and heaving beneath the stormy breath of all violent passions. Both are thus earth born ; both arise out of the animal and sensual side of human existence. While the ideal has its birth in heaven, and comes down to man to elevate and purify him, the sensual has its birth beneath in the earth, in the sub-human sphere, and comes up to man with its lying and conjuring pretences to drag him down to the abyss of its own baseness. As the dragon was anti-God, and the first beast anti-Christ, so is this false prophetism anti-spirit ; and we thus have set before us a kind of diabolic trinity. Such is the nature and origin, of the second beast. (2.) Its aim is to induce men to worship godless force and lawless lust, as impersonated in the first beast ; and more particularly in its visible image, the Emperor. This Emperor-worship "gave to heathenism," as Uhlhorn has pointed out, "a religious unity, a universal state religion, to slight or abandon which became a crime against the empire.
 This is what really precipitated the conflict between the State and Christianity. To neglect the worship of Jupiter was little. A man might prefer Diana or some other god. Polytheism was from its very nature tolerant of various forms of worship. When, however, the Emperor became the visible deity of the whole civilised world, no man might dare to neglect or despise his worship. Let him worship what ever other god he pleased, but he must worship the Emperor too, for impiety in this case became treason. To the pagan, Caesar-worship was easy. It was simply the addition of another god to the Pantheon ; a god, more over, who as the effective guardian of the peace and prosperity of the world, added an element of reality to the now somewhat shadowy and dubious forms whom their simpler fathers had seen in sky and storm, in stream and wood and mountain. Caesar-worship, so popular in the Roman world, especially in the provinces, where the frailties of the god were less clearly seen, seems to us— at least with men so contemptible as Claudius, or so hateful as Nero, on the throne — the most monstrous of impossibilities. And not otherwise did it seem to the early Christians. It was to them an idolatry at once shocking and openly dishonoring to God. They could not away with it. Rather than sprinkle one pinch of incense before the Emperor's statute they would die. With a resolution so stubborn as this they would probably soon have forced their way to toleration had they been confronted by nothing but earthly force. A fiend like Nero might indeed upon some special occasion have glutted his natural ferocity, with the delight of a bloody massacre. But naked force, unhelped, must soon have given way before the patient determination of principle.
 To lengthen out the conflict through centuries, to hold down for all that time the mightiest religious enthusiasm the world had ever seen, force would need the assistance of some spiritual ally, and it found it, as St. John's symbolism significantly denotes to us, in a revival of heathen fanaticism. The chief instrument of this revival was also, as he represents, a diabolical prophetism, an irruption from the East, of those magical and sensual nature worships which were little else than a deification of natural and instinctive forces.  "After the accession of Tiberius," says Renan, "a religious reaction was perceptible. It would seem that a society was shocked at the avowed infidelity of the Augustan age." But what was to be done ? Men might still talk of the old deities, they might still even do them outward service, but all genuine faith in them, at least among the educated classes, was absolutely dead. They must get new gods, gods whose cult would neither be repugnant to Caesar-worship, nor hostile to the abominable Immoralities of pagan life. The gods which could give these sceptical and immoral Romans what they needed must embody the idea of tremendous mystical force, and must have close kinship with the lower instinctive impulses of man's animal nature. Just such were the deities of the vague ancient nature-cults of Egypt and Syria, Isis, Serapis, Attys and the mighty Earth-mother. Rome needed them, and they came. Magnificent temples rose to Isis and Serapis. Syrian festivals were celebrated with the greatest splendor, and the wailing for Attys resounded on the banks of the Tiber as loudly as ever on those of the Orontes. The mysteries became at first ascetic and sacrificial, then turned, as might have been expected, into " a veil for the most detestable orgies." Oneirology became a science, and a man could have no dream, how ever casual or absurd, of which he might not find in the " Oneirocritica" of Artemidorus a grave and fitting interpretation. With all these Eastern superstitions came their ministers. Impostors of all sorts," says Renan, "thaumaturgists and magicians, profited by the popular mood, and, as ordinarily takes place when the State religion is enfeebled, swarmed on every side." These impostors turned the temples into theatres of magic. Neophytes fasted, and lay all night in the darkness, to find at length a glorious light burst on their enfeebled nerves, or to hear mysterious music and to see majestic forms draped in the altar-flames as the sacrificial fire was kindled. People imagined themselves continually surrounded by miracles. Magicians, in their chambers of mystery, exhibited, then as now, spirit-raising and table-rapping. Nothing was more popular in ordinary conversation than ghost stories, such as are related by Apuleius and caricatured by Lucian. Individual impostors obtained an influence in the world unparalleled in any other age. Alexander, of Abonotoichos, whose knavery is exposed by Lucian, had so immense an influence, and commanded such implicit trust, that even Marcus Aurelius consulted him about the campaign on the Danube, and commoner people actually worshipped his statues. The proud civilisation of Rome seemed likely to end in nothing better than a witch's Sabbath. And yet it was all perfectly natural, and even inevitable.
 Scepticism ever throws back into some form of nature worship, and nature worship as constantly developes magic and superstition. For what is superstition ? It is the "standing over" of those instinctive beliefs in the occult powers, of matter which belong to the stage of fetish worship. Belief in these things sceptical philosophers cannot be said to have, but they have what stands to them in the place of belief, such an ecstatic exaltation of the emotions, and such a lifting a man above his common self, as shall fill up the painful vacuum in his heart, and cause the difficulties of thought and life to fade away. Naturalistic magic became thus a real power, inspired a real fanaticism, and established beside the vapid state worship of the Emperor, a mighty ally, by whose assistance it might confront with success the deep and terrible enthusiasm of the Christian Church. The Second Beast, with the lamb-like face and dragon-like words, did in very deed deceive them that dwell on the earth by means of the miracles which he did did in very deed cause men to worship the image of the First Beast, smiting all those in their worldly interests who refused such worship. Is this a picture for the first century, and not for the nineteenth also ? Are we not conscious of a like failure of belief in ancient truth ; of a like weariness and loosening of moral ties, yes, and of a like throwing back into that mere naturalism which may quicken the jaded curiosity, exalt the enfeebled emotions, and give a new color and interest to existence? Have we not amongst us a false prophet working miracles, before the image of unconscious force, and calling all men to worship it ? "Who can read such a book as Home's Lights and Shadow of Spiritualism without being reminded of the juggling and incantation and spirit-raising of the decaying Roman Empire ? False prophecy seeks now in Osiris, its Demeter, in the vast aggregate of material force, with all the magic powers which lie hidden in the dark unconscious background of human life. It has for its ministers mesmerism and clairvoyance, and it manufactures its miracles and brings up its ghosts with means supplied to it by a deeper science than was known of old. It has its wild beast of force, too, for which it demands worship under the name of nature, or even of God ; a dull abstraction meaning nothing, and therefore less liable to criticism than, the mighty earth-mother of old. This old vision of St. John, then, is for us too, warning us of a great danger, and pointing us to the only deliverance from it.
  What, let us ask, furnished the point of departure for this modern superstition-—this standing over—for so it is, of the residuum of abandoned faiths ? I believe it to be the natural offshoot of that which it so vehemently opposes, the popular materialism. An exclusive cultivation of physical science has deluded many with the hope that out of the simple elements of matter they can build up (helped by the theory of natural selection) the whole wonderful cosmos of matter and intelligence. This effort of theirs, it is to be remembered, is extra-scientific. It parts from science where it endeavors to transcend phenomena. By calling itself materialism it proclaims that it is nothing better than a hypothetical philosophy. What, then, precisely is the hypothesis which it puts forward? Knowledge, it is often said, consists of two parts—of the mind and of the world ; of the subject and of the object. But this is inaccurate. We have knowledge only of the states of our own consciousness. All laws are but rules of the relations of these ; all sciences are but collections of such laws. If, then, we know nothing more than, states of our own consciousness, shall we say that these comprise the whole of existence ; that nothing exists but what we know ? Strange to say, there are phenomenalists who say of the universe what David Hume affirmed of the human mind— that it is "nothing but a heap of perceptions." Logically that is a very convenient position to take, but then nobody can be found to believe it true. We are so constituted that we cannot help affirming that there is an outward world, of which our states of consciousness give us information, and that there is a mind of which our sensations, emotions, thoughts and determinations are states. These inward impressions of ours are caused by an object, and felt by a subject.
   And now what shall we say about the relation of this object and subject, which we are compelled to assume ? Shall we say that subject and object are both real and different, calling the one matter, the other mind ? This is the theory of the dualist. Or shall we say that what we know best — the subject— is real, and the only real thing ; the object being merely a projection outward of its thoughts ? That is the position of the subjective idealist. Or shall we say again that the object is the only real thing, the subject being merely its product, part of that hypothetical matter which, according to the materialist, "contains the promise and potency of all being?" This is the theory of the materialist, a mere theory like any of the others, and dependant for its acceptance on what it can say for itself. The theory was constructed for a practical purpose— to explain mind in terms of matter, to prove mind a mere function of matter. Does it succeed, then? It does not. In the first place, its adherents cannot agree upon the meaning of matter. Some are for leaving it a something without consciousness, others are for giving even to the ultimate atoms of it life and even potential thought. Some affirm that it is simple and uniform in its nature, others that there may be more than one kind of it, a subtler matter for conscious, a coarser for unconscious, phenomena. Seeing that no one knows what it is in itself, and that its disciples are divided even as to its potencies, it is very difficult to talk about such a thing. On one point, however, materialists seem to be agreed — that matter is to be held capable of developing consciousness. These are atoms of some kind, be they only vortex atoms, with physical energies playing around them, and these atoms, impelled by their energies, can produce thought. But how, we ask ? If your theory is worth anything it must make the problem of thought clearer to us. How, then, do these atoms produce thought? That question staggers such men as Professor Tyndall — too honest to pretend to see when they do not. How the vibration of an atom, or the mere impact of a wave on a surface, can produce any sense of color, heat or sound, is, Professor Tyndall acknowledges, unthinkable. Now, if the passage of mere moving matter into sensation cannot even be presented to our thought, what is the use of it? Where is the credibility of it? But now, suppose that the material genesis of thought were thinkable, how is materialism to get over certain difficulties which beset it as a theory ? Can we believe, in the first place, that the whole cosmic order, with its far-reaching laws and delicate adaptations, resulted from the purposeless, and therefore accidental, concourse of atoms ? Suppose that I had a number of letters, endowed simply with physical energies, and capable of combining in many ways. Is it possible for me to believe that in any given length of time, and allowing for as many false starts as you please, they could in the end, without purpose, combine themselves into Milton's Paradise Lost? That is the substance of the materialist hypothesis, and it wrecks itself against the scientific law of continuity, which declares that there must be no more in the consequent than existed in the antecedent. Either, then, mind with a purpose existed in the atoms, or it will never come out of them. But, again, this theory is seen to wreck itself against the physical law of the conservation of energy. The greatest materialists allow that if man were a mere machine, without consciousness, his acts would be the full physical equivalent of the energy taken up to perform those acts. The circle of supply and expenditure, of expenditure and restoration, is complete without consciousness. When, then, is consciousness? A physical energy it cannot be, or it would contradict the law of conservation. What is then, this tertium quid, left solitary in space, formless and substanceless ? Oh ! urges Professor Tyndall, we must look on it as "a by-product." But, then, if it be a product of any kind, whether "by" or other, it must, according to the materialists' theory, have taken up energy in being produced. What, then, has it done with it, for no energy can be lost? Oh! answers Professor Huxley; consciousness has the same relation to the brain as the face of a clock to a clock. It does nothing. It only shows what is being done. But this is not true. This clock-face is in constant action. It passes through incessant changes of thought, feeling, volition and the like. Moreover, although by hypothesis it is not a physical energy, it can originate physical energy — a result again forbidden by the law of conservation. I said it can originate physical energy. The thought of Shakspeare is locked up and crystallised in his printed plays. The atoms of the man's brain have long since been "blown about with desert dust." They cannot affect me. But I read Hamlet and the thought embodied there stimulates my nervous energy so powerfully that I waste brain force, and break down brain matter indefinitely in thinking, feeling, willing, and perhaps acting, as otherwise I should not have done. Here is a nothing, a mere index of what is, stimulating and originating physical energy. It is impossible. And what a theory for a man to be driven to !
 States of consciousness, as we have seen, make up our whole knowledge ; they embrace our whole intellectual, emotional, volitional existence ; they comprise all laws, even the law of the conservation of energy itself. Nay, according to the phenomenalist, they comprise the mind and the universe. And yet they are a by- product — a mere index — the mere face of a clock. Could there be a more complete reductio ad absurdum ? Who can wonder, then, that a thinker like Herbert Spencer turns away from such a theory with disdain ? But ah ! it is welcome, most welcome, to a sense-worshipping age. For it justifies the pleasure loving life of instinct. If I be only organised matter, passing, with five senses, through an hour of consciousness into dark and everlasting unconsciousness again, what more reasonable than that I should get what pleasure I can on the way ? Then the one good of life is what can buy me enjoyment. For with that I can get feasts, shows, amusements, concubines ; and, taking care to keep life from becoming too beastlike by a refined and becoming reserve, can wallow in sensuality at my will. Do you tell me that I spill the very wine of life in destroying thus its holiest affections, its loftiest ideals, its most gracious charities ? I answer, cries the rich sensualist, that I have no taste for these. How should I regret the loss of what I never knew ? Yea, if even with increasing age and satiety I be attacked, as man's miserable experience seems to threaten, with the deep weariness of ennui, I can at least end the dulness, the vacancy, the monotony of sated lust, as Pliny reminds me, by suicide.
 There are some amongst us who try to escape from the absurdities and menacing immoralities of materialism into what is called agnosticism. There may be a grand ideal world, they grant ; there certainly is a something greater than mind, greater than matter, greater than man knows, behind our vivid life of sense. But if so, it must remain for ever unknown to us. It cannot show itself on the stage of consciousness. What, then, we cannot know, it must surely be allowable to ignore. What are a few teasing aspirations, a few foolish presentiments, a few inevitable disgusts and disquietudes ? Neglect them, tread them under, thrust them into the dim background of consciousness, treat them as hereditary survivals of a more barbarous age— as the misleading marsh lights of dead superstitions, which, if followed, would only lead you into the forbidden regions of the unknown. This form of unfaith is wont to pride itself upon the impregnability of its intellectual position. Tho boast is a vain one. Agnosticism, in its greatest representatives, denotes a reaction against pure phenomenalism. Hume, as I have said, actually held that mind was nothing more than a heap of states of consciousness. This theory is so utterly unbelievable, and even to a serious man unthinkable, that modern agnostics have pushed it somewhat disdainfully aside, and postulate, at the least, an infinite mysterious something behind phenomena, both mental and physical, as the basis and energy of all being. But now if there be this mysterious something ; if all existence, and therefore human existence, is derived from and leans upon it, must there not necessarily exist important relations between that something and me? Deny the something with the phenomenalist, and it is reasonable to dismiss all thought about it ; but admit the something with Spencer, admit your own dependence on it, and how can it be reasonable to ignore what is, what shows in nature and man some aspects of its character, because you cannot understand all that it is ?
  Agnosticism despises materialism as absurd ; it rejects phenomenalism as unthinkable ; and it is itself more inconsistent than either. For, if we came from the great something, and are constantly sustained by it, to ignore it is as ungrateful as impossible. The practical effect of such an effort is, I believe, more spiritually hurtful than atheism itself. The atheist still fixes his eye on the place where God is said to be, and even in his denial is obliged to keep the great object before him. But the agnostic may fall into the position of those Parisians of whom Heine said, "There are no atheists here. They have not preserved enough respect for le bon Dieu to be at the pains of denying Him." And let no one suppose that such unfaith as this protects a man from superstition ; rather does it incline him, by the ineffable weariness which it brings, to seek something beyond the bright sultry circle of the known, to which the heart may go out and cling. And this something is almost certain to be the fetish of the magician. For sinking, as the agnostic practically will, into the belief that unconscious force wrought by accident the immense miracle of giving to man consciousness, he may easily come to entertain the suspicion that a very crafty man might surprise nature in the act of doing some of those haphazard tricks which other men have failed to detect. This man will be a magician. He has a system by which he can cheat chance of its secrets, very much as some European gamblers are superstitiously supposed to cheat the rouge et noir machine. Such a theory of things throws back as naturally into magic as the faith in a great spiritual power, with purpose and goodness, throws forward into spiritual religion. Let no one cry out that such degradation is impossible in these enlightened days. It is not in Dahomey, it is among civilised European races, that spiritism has played its tricks and won its disciples. Let a man once give up his hold on the love and righteousness of a heavenly Father, and there is nothing in intellectual culture, even the highest, to prevent him from falling down and worshipping the image of the wild beast of blind force, whether in the shape of mob or kaiser, which the false prophet of these days may set up.

The Age 24 August 1883

No comments: